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Common Core: Orwellian Lessons in Florida

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Ask any college freshman what he knows about communism and he will likely engage in a word association game.

“The red scare, McCarthyism,” he will blurt out, displaying lessons well-learned from his textbooks and teachers.


One way to go beyond the idea of communism as evidence of paranoia, though, is to recall George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” will be the phrase students recall. Students seem to get that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” never works out in reality from this fictional work.

This novel shows how literature can sometimes demonstrate historical realities better than many textbooks.

But with the Obama administration’s unconstitutional program of nationalizing education, students will not likely be able to experience the insights and pleasures of novels, like Orwell’s. In 2009, during the economic “crisis,” states were offered part of the $4.35 billion in stimulus funds in a hurried contest called Race to the Top. After the initial application, they were told that they would have to adhere to national standards and testing called Common Core, sight unseen, and without any legislative input. Forty-eight states signed on initially; today, 45 states are committed to CC—although citizens and teachers are organizing against it.

The standards, now in place for math and English, emphasize “work and career readiness”--that is for workers who see themselves as global citizens unacquainted with their national and cultural heritage. This became apparent as I read the recent article, “Teachers Get Help with Common Core Lessons Through (sic) CPALMS,” at the NPR site. This was also because one of the CPALMS lessons for English/Language Arts was on Animal Farm.


The article explained that as Common-Core aligned assessments and textbooks are being written, the state of Florida is using a federal Race to the Top grant from the Department of Education to develop a site of resources for teachers who are scrambling to adhere to the new standards.

Pinnellas County School Superintendant Mike Grego recently told the Florida State Board of Education that there is “no resistance” to Common Core. At the same time, Florida’s new state superintendant, Tony Bennett, is steamrolling in the curriculum. Bennett, by the way, lost reelection in Indiana, many believe, because of his support for Common Core.

The lack of “resistance” may very well be due to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the Department of Education that bypassed state legislatures and public input, often gaining the support of Republicans with vague promises of “rigor” and uniform “standards.” Most in the politically informed Tea Party Manatee audience before whom I spoke on the evening of January 8 were not aware of this federal takeover of education.

Among the points I made are those from my recent report for Accuracy in Media. National tests (being written by close, like-minded colleagues of terrorist-turned-education-professor Bill Ayers, like Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond) will eventually nullify the idea of private schools and even home schools. Some Catholic and other religious schools are already beginning to adopt Common Core standards as they see college entrance exams being written to CC specifications. The 45 participating states are also required to keep data bases of students from “cradle to career”--to use Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s favorite phrase--and submit them to the federal government, in effect making a national database.


Some conservative organizations have protested this unconstitutional power grab by the Department of Education.

But the mandate to replace literature in English classes with “informational texts”—with only half the time allotted to literature, and reduced to only 30 percent by the last two years of high school—caught the attention of even the liberal media. They became alarmed that favorites like To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye are to be replaced by such things as EPA directives.

Spokesmen tried to alleviate fears. They directed skeptics to the standards: “the Standards require a certain critical content for all students including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.” Plus, they “intentionally do not offer a reading list.” David Coleman the well-connected new president of the College Board, which writes and administers college entrance exams, has pointed to these caveats, and repeated the claim that the standards call for evidence-based writing instead of writing based on personal experience and feelings. (See the very funny takedown by the Pioneer Institute’s James Stergios of how the advocate of “close reading,” David Coleman, mixed up Federalist 51 and 10 in an instructional video.)

Animal Farm would seem to fall into the category of classical literature that the bureaucrats and educrats refer to in attempts to mollify critics. Those who wrote the ninth and tenth-grade lesson plans for CPALMS (Collaborate, Plan, Align, Learn, Motivate, Share) seemed to have this in mind. First, the novel is put into the broad category of “fables” from Aesop, with a list of those usually taught to young children like “The Tortoise and the Hare.” In typical Common Core fashion, students are to search out “elements” of a fable and then mechanically fill in a chart that is provided as a hand-out in the lesson plan.


Did anyone consider, though, that the comparison to a fable for preschoolers might be insulting to teenagers? The teacher’s version of the chart has the blanks filled in, with the element of the “problem” described as “Power can make the animals corrupt; they struggle to take care of the farm and with leadership.” The “resolution” is “The farm ends up being worse with the animals in control because of too much power and corruptness by the pigs.” The “moral/lesson” is “Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” (The source for this quotation, the conservative historian Lord Acton, is not mentioned, however.)

All this is very general. And when one compares it to other sample lessons in Common Core and its standards, one sees that it is deliberately so. While one small mention is made in a sheet on the “elements of a fable” that Animal Farm is “satirized Stalinist Communism, in particular, and totalitarianism, in general” it is clear that the novel is to be taught in a historic vacuum. The pointed criticisms of communism are generalized to an indictment of a vague sense of too much “power.”

This exercise recalls one that gave consternation to teachers when they were instructed to read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all “texts” to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA’s Recommended Levels of Insulation. This leveling is demonstrated in another lesson plan at CPALMS that involves the historical young adult novel Kidnapped in Key West, where teachers are told to “avoid giving any background context or instructional guidance at the outset of the lesson while students are reading the text chorally.” This kind of “close reading” presumably “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend the text.”


Leveling the playing field is a primary objective of the Obama Department of Education, and Common Core presents a means to do so by encouraging such “close” or “deep” reading. Reading the “text” “chorally,” which Merriam-Webster defines as "sung," implies reading aloud in unison. It ensures that all students, including struggling readers, are brought along with the group. Such objectives are in line with Darling-Hammond’s educational agenda. The former Obama education transition team director is in charge of using $176 in Race-to-the-Top funds to develop tests for one of two consortia and is implementing her “five-dimensional grading rubric” of personal responsibility, social responsibility, communication skills, application of knowledge, and critical and creative thinking. This assessment philosophy had the dubious distinction of placing her Stanford New Schools on California’s list of the lowest-achieving five percent. Now about half of American students will be required to take her tests.

The sample test questions released by her consortia give no indication that acquisition of knowledge is important. As I noted in my other reports, social responsibility is the aim of the new curriculum materials being developed. They follow Arne Duncan’s stated purpose for schools: to be part of the “battle for social justice.”

Many have been fooled by rhetoric that simply repeats the talking points of the Department of Education and the well-connected leftists in the education field who will profit from our tax dollars by selling teacher training, software and hardware, and Common Core-aligned curricula. Bernie Reeves even called David Coleman an “education hero” in American Thinker. I thought it might be a satire, or Newspeak.


Duncan, who worked with Bill Ayers in Chicago on education issues, is on the same page, as is Darling-Hammond. Obama’s signature education initiative has been dubbed “Obama Core” for good reason. It is an Orwellian re-education campaign.

Florida’s sample lesson for teaching, among all things, Animal Farm, provides an illustration of how this is being done.

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